I think I first met Alice Halliday at Skibbereen Farmers Market and if that wasn't our first meeting, it may as well have been, as a spiritual home for us both. Introduced by Alice's mother and fine artist Claire Halliday, who I knew already, Alice had been a past stall holder and was curious to learn how it was going for me in the market, take a look at my wares and share a few tips. We connected on Instagram and I began to understand the breadth of Alice's creativity, her immersion in her unique ethereal aesthetic and her focus on bringing together all aspects of her business on social media to engage her clients and followers. Alice Halliday has an amazing eye for colour, texture, composition and layering in a manner she makes look effortless and in this conversation I learn that the roots of it come from growing up in an enviably creative home with years of experimenting with materials and making from a very young age. She is one of the most authentic people I know and she warmly welcomed me to her studio in Skibbereen to talk about her back story, influences and inspirations and show me some of her wonderful pieces.
Where did you grow up? Was creativity encouraged in your family?
In Bluid in West Cork, about 10 minutes from Skibbereen. There's a hill behind the house from where you can see the sea. My parents are still in the house I grew up in. I went away to college in England, first to Leamington Spa, then to Epsom University for the Creative Arts to do a degree in fashion design. Then I moved back to Ireland, spent some time in Cork City and ended up returning to West Cork and now I'm living in Skibbereen, eight minutes walk from my studio.
Most of my family are artists; my dad's parents both were artists, his dad actually taught art years ago in the college I went to in Leamington. Dad is a political cartoonist for the local newspaper and my mum is a fine artist as well as being creative with sewing. My aunts are very creative: one is the appliqué artist, Sukey Sindall. My mum taught me to sew Barbie clothes, as she had all her old Barbies from when she was little and that's kind of how it started. We did a lot of art around the house and had friends over to do paintings, it was very much encouraged. There were books, like the Flower Fairy books and Beatrix Potter and fairytale stories. We would play dress up games, we'd do fashion shows in the kitchen for my parents and make outfits out of scarves and things from the dressing up box. My mum had some lovely vintage bits as well, so I'd dress up my siblings and our friends and do little catwalk shows, it was a really big part of our childhood.
Is there anyone outside of the family who particularly influenced you creatively growing up?
Aida Austin, an artist in Clonakilty, is a good friend of my mum and we'd go to her house quite often, she decorates her home really beautifully. She makes art out of metal with repousse technique and restores furniture. She used to make these woodland fairy marionettes that were just so delicate, from old torn fabrics and found objects from nature like nuts, grasses, little branches and twigs. I absolutely loved them. She's always had a skill for re-using old materials and has so many ideas. The sheer detail in each piece I found mind blowing because of the hours that went into it. I really admire that craftsmanship.
You describe yourself as an ethical fashion designer and I'm really interested to hear your back story, can you share some of the experiences that led to what you're doing now?
My mum really encouraged that make do and mend ethos, reusing vintage fabrics. My granny had done the same and we always had bits lying around that we could rework. We made do with what we had and got the odd new thing which was actually really special, but I loved receiving a big bag of clothes from friends and going through it all.
One of my favourite films is The Sound of Music, I loved the way Maria made the kids play clothes out of the curtains, and the fact that each outfit was different. I've watched it now in HD and I can see things I didn't see when I was younger, little ribbons and lacy trims. I was about 12 or 13 when I made my first range of accessories which I sold in some local shops. I made handbags from a vintage seventies table cloth, and suedette belts using fabric from a shop window display, brown and tan coloured, they looked seventies in style. Table cloths, curtains, all these domestic textiles, I've always loved to use them and I continue to with my bridal wear, most of that is made from table cloths, doilies and place mats.
One of your recent posts on Instagram was of your packaging and your caption described how you source shoe boxes and wallpaper to create these beautiful gift boxes for customers orders. How is this idea of re-use and re-purpose at the core of what your business is about?
There's just so much waste in this world, it's awful to think of it, especially about the amount of plastics in the ocean, it really upsets me. When there are things people are throwing out that are perfectly usable, why should you buy a load of new packaging materials? It's so important to re-use as much as we can. I think it makes it unique as well; the vintage wallpaper I source from charity shops and if I don't take those boxes from shoe shops they just get flattened and put into recycling. I know there's a lot of controversy around the whole recycling system, we don't actually know how much is actually being recycled. I use natural options like recycled card and would love for everything to be recycled. I hope that if my boxes are particularly pretty, customers might keep them and put things in; some people have said ' I'm keeping the box' and that's lovely. My pieces are designed to really last and I hope that people will treasure them and wear them as much as possible or even hang the dress on the wall as decoration or put their flower crown around a lampshade, which is something I do.
What's different about your work to what others might be doing? What do you give your clients that's to you?
Each piece is unique or limited edition, it's all handmade by me. I make bespoke pieces where I work closely with a client, so we're designing together. I love to hear the story behind what the client is looking for, to get an insight into their own sense of style, their own character and how that influences what they wear. If they're shy, they might not want something too revealing or maybe there are certain parts of their body they want to hide or enhance. To create something they're going to be really comfortable in, that they're going to look in the mirror and think 'I look amazing' is a really lovely thing to do for someone.
In your Instagram posts you have a very particular visual aesthetic. What are your influences?
My mum gave me a book on the art of Alphonse Mucha when I was about eleven. She has always loved his art and there's something ethereal about it, the flowing clothes and hair, the flower crowns, the jewellery and amazing headpieces. Art Nouveau is inspired by nature and natural forms, there's so much beauty in the uniqueness of nature, where each flower is different and you never have two the same in every living thing.
The way I work is quite organic, I don't really draw designs. At uni we had to do fashion illustrations and design development drawings and I much preferred to work in 3D on the mannequin. I pin things in place and change them about and often hand stitch on the mannequin and the design will change throughout the process.
How did your time in college affect your style?
I have another side to me which is a bit gothic and dark. I went through a phase of punk/goth when I was wearing dark eye make up, tartan and studs as a teenager. Graveyards really inspire me. I love the ornate metal crosses, old stone carvings, and the fact they are so peaceful. We use to go on holiday to France as a family and there were some incredible graveyards there, the detail was so beautiful and because it was the middle of summer and hot they had artificial flowers that had faded and mottled, set beside old black and white portraits. That inspired my pre-collection which I called “Love is Strong as Death”. I was also looking at poetry by John Keats and the film Bright Star based on his life, which came out at the time. It's a tragic story, but the clothes and setting are just so beautiful, it all influenced the collection.
Now, my work is more vintage inspired but at uni we were encouraged to be contemporary and I did more sculptural styles which were edgy, with a gothic side, but still feminine. I'd like to try more contemporary silhouettes but still using vintage fabrics. I have some black lacy fabrics which I'd like to consider for bridal wear, perhaps layering them over colours, I always have so many ideas in my mind.
You have several career roles; you're a fashion designer and maker, a jewellery maker, headpiece designer and maker, a fashion stylist and on top of all of that you're also a mum! Do you have any daily practices that help you fit it all in?
Not enough, I'd like to do more. Now that I have my studio and Naythan is in school, I have set times each morning to actually work and that is better. I go to yoga on Thursday mornings which is great and I try to go swimming. I'd love to be more organised, I dream of being really planned and organised.
Do you enjoy travelling – how does it inspire your work?
Yes, very much. My boyfriend lives in Majorca, the landscape is so beautiful there, very different to here. I saw such amazing colours, in the flowers, the mountains and coastline. I love the architecture and interiors of really old buildings in Spain, France and Italy. The Spanish religious iconography is particularly inspiring to me, and every time I visit we'll go into old churchs and cathedrals; it's the ceilings, the paintings and statues, and the use of gold. I was in Barcelona in the spring where my sister was living and we went to a beach that was covered in shell glitter – I think it was from the inside of mother of pearl shells. There were tiny little shells everywhere and it was all sparkling. I was in heaven sifting through it. Wherever I go, I find inspiration.
What do you like about living in West Cork? Does it inspire you creatively?
There's a really nice sense of community, it's very friendly and supportive and there are so many creative people here. There are lovely markets, like Skibb Farmers Market and local shops willing to stock my work and networking groups, too. It's an easy place to live without a huge amount of money. I need to be near nature, Skibbereen is quite a small town and it's really close to beaches and woodlands. To see Naythan growing up where I grew up and going to the same places is so special, he's really content here and I can't imagine moving somewhere else and starting again. Your can walk down the street and see at least five people you know and I think that's really important, it feels safe. It's home and all I know really. Although college was fun, I always missed West Cork.
Do you have an heirloom piece in your own wardrobe that you will always keep?
I've probably got more than one! A navy cable knit cardigan that my granny knitted. Things that were my mums and don't necessarily even fit me, but I'm still going to keep them. The skirt I'm wearing is from Liberty & Jasmine. I'm always going to keep, it's become my new favourite wardrobe item. I have lots of vintage pieces, I like to mix granny chic with a more ethereal, fairy style. There are things I've parted with and then missed them down the line, sometimes you don't get over them. But I have also sold on some bits at markets, that belonged to my Granny or that were given to me, and I feel joy knowing they are going to a loving home. I think it’s really important to make pieces last, but I think it's unhealthy to hoard and keep everything. You don't want to get bored of your wardrobe, so a great idea is to rework old pieces, donate to charity shops and go to clothes swaps.
Is there a book you've read that you would recommend?
I'm bad at finishing books lately, I seem to have a few books on my shelf with bookmarks in that just haven't been finished. The only time I read is before going to sleep and I could literally read a page before drifting off, and then I don't even know what I've read. I like descriptive books where you can really visualise the story. My dad lent me When I stepped Out One Midsummers Morning by Laurie Lee and that was lovely; the travelling, the descriptions of everywhere he went and the characters. I also loved all the Harry Potter books, too and that whole magical world!.
Are there any favourite quotes or mantras that you turn to?
Years ago, I went for a healing treatment and at the end I had a vision of a snowy owl flying towards me. Afterwards, I looked up the image of the white owl and there was a mantra beside it;
“I open my heart and soul to the truth and ask that my life's journey be illuminated before me. I ask for the wisdom to see, even in the darkness of life's challenges and the ability to manifest my true path”. That helps me if I have a struggle or I can't make a decision or if I'm feeling overwhelmed.
Thinking about ethical living and sustainability, it can be overwhelming for people to know where to begin. What small things can we do everyday to live as more conscious consumers?
When you go shopping for food the amount of plastic packaging used is just ridiculous. At the famers market you can get veg without packaging and you know it's from a good source. We should try not to take a plastic bag to put things into, use a paper bag instead or bring your own fabric bags. I got bread the other day and had it sliced and they put it on a polystyrene tray and I thought, I don't want that, because you can't even recycle polystyrene - it's just the worst thing. Next time I'll ask them not to, I think we have to not be afraid to say it.
And try not to buy too many things. With clothing, it's better to spend a more on a special piece than lots of cheaper ones, because the quality is going to be much better and then it will last. Vivienne Westwood has it right 'Buy Less, Choose Well, Make it Last'.